Building Stories Hardcover – 4 Oct 2012
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"There's nobody else doing anything in this medium that remotely approaches Ware for originality, plangency, complexity and exactitude. Astonishment is an entirely appropriate response." (Sam Leith Guardian)
"A major moment in British cultural history." (Christopher Frayling Radio 4)
"Breathtaking... Staggeringly good." (Shortlist)
"Just occasionally, a writer or artist – or both in one – emerges who is so astoundingly original that everything else suddenly seems like a facsimile of what has come before. Chris Ware, the 45-year-old American comics artist, is one of these. Widely hailed as one of the foremost practitioners working in the medium today, his new book, if one can call it that without being reductionist, is a work of such startling genius that it is difficult to know where to begin." (Jake Wallis Simons Daily Telegraph)
"This is the first book which I have finished and immediately started again, wanting to experience each of the stories with full knowledge of what happens in the rest... The number of narrative techniques Ware uses in the novel is giddying... Building Stories is a stunning piece of work, proving yet again why Ware is so frequently included in lists of the greatest living cartoonists." (Alex Hern New Statesman)
Twelve years after he changed the history of comics with Jimmy Corrigan, a new graphic novel masterpiece by Chris Ware.See all Product description
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The title itself is a nice play on words - a collection of stories taking place mostly in one specific building, but it is we, the readers, who build up the narrative, through the way in which we sequence our reading of the 14 different documents included in the box.
A couple of gripes - most of the men are pretty one dimensional: self-centred and thoughtless; none of them have the depth or complexity of the female characters. And, while Branford the neurotic bee is a mildly entertaining diversion, i was too hungry to get on with the main narrative to focus my attention elsewhere.
This is a piece of treasure to indulge in over one weekend - touching, beautifully rendered, and erring just on the right side of sentimentality. Pretty much a masterpiece.
If you've read (the exceedingly good) Acme Novelty Libary no. 18, Building Stories will ring a bell: Except for tales of a temporary resident the story is of the tenants of an apartment building, focussing upon the main character of the previous book. (If you own ANL no. 18 be prepared to own another copy of it--rather disappointingly it's one of the books enclosed and though it's slightly larger than the original I noticed no other changes.) Ware dips in and out of the lives of an old woman, a couple with a strained relationship, and, most of all, a lonely young woman. There's little drama in those lives and most of what we learn of these people we learn from their thoughts, but the book is credible and most of it is thoroughly absorbing, The art is of course terrific.
But a couple of the booklets barely held my interest. While the 'The Daily Bee', a mock newspaper, was very nice a booklet about the bee character, which actually has the most attractive artwork in the book, grows almost tedious. Another over-long booklet seems to have no point other than to show us that a mother loves her child. Indeed, I wondered whether Ware had written some of Building Stories shortly after becoming a parent; although he never quite slides into sentimentality he comes close to it. (The child's words and actions do seem true to life, though.)
And the lonely woman, the child's mother, sometimes verges on being a rather annoying bore. I've little doubt that my tolerance for self-absorbed socially awkward characters has been lowered because so many American graphic novelists--Clowes of course springs to mind--have done them almost to death, but her preoccupation with herself (pre-child, anyway), with her appearance, whether she'll find a partner, slights she suffered years ago, wears thin. Occasionally as well her social cluelessness would be in real life downright scary: She interprets disinterested glances as signs of sexual attraction to her and, when a virtual stranger gives her a lift and upon reaching the destination takes hold of her hand, her response is to say disappointedly 'I know . . . you only want to be "friends".' And onn the whole I'm not sure this person is interesting enough to merit so many pages of the book; I'd rather have read more about the man downstairs, who seems to have a more complex personality than the other characters.
Because I've a fair few books in odd formats, including a couple of others in boxes, I wasn't quite so ravished by the format of this one as others have been: it's a good idea but not a new one. Moreover, whilst the papers, pamphlets, and books are bundled together within the box, there's nothing to prevent that bundle sliding about during shipping and I presume that's why several of the items in my copy were bent at the edges and why the foil covering the spine of one book has begun to peel. (For some interesting remarks on the book's design, see mrclam's review on American amazon.)
One last thing: If you've never read Chris Ware--and certainly if you've never read comics--this mightn't be the best place to start. Instead, for a full-length novel, try Jimmy Corrigan; for Ware at his most distinctive, have a look at Acme Novelty Library (unnumbered) or perhaps Quimby Mouse.
(edit, June 2015: For what it's worth, after re-reading Jimmy Corrigan I took another look at Building Stories and afterward asked myself, Am I likely to ever read this again? would I regret not having it around to look at now and again? The answers landed it in a box of books going to the 2nd-hand shop.)
It makes sense that this artist who has worked from the micro to the macro in terms of publishing, has brought all these forms together in huge package. It is a remarkable achievement.
Also - I'm in it. Which is nice.
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